Caring Confectionery #4: Market Insights with Gateaux de Voyage
Read an exciting interview with Sho Yoshida, brand manager of Las Olas, a plant-based brand developed by Gateaux de Voyage
Hello Market Shakers,
After an overview of trends in Japan and worldwide, of what’s in store and what consumers think, we’re excited to share with you an interview with Sho Yoshida, brand manager of Las Olas at Gateaux de Voyage.
We briefly talked about Gateaux de voyage with Gizem Sakamaki in Focus On Veganism in Japan and our first issue of Caring Confectionery. Time now to discover in more detail their adventure in the plant-based confectionery sector.
Gateaux de Voyage is a confectionery manufacturer specialized in souvenir sweets and treats, founded in 2017. Based in Yokohama, the company now counts over 300 employees. For the past four years, they’ve worked on developing healthy, ‘good for everyone’ treats.
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In the 2010s, plant-based diet trends emerged in Europe, while Japan was lagging.
Before joining Gateaux de Voyage in 2016, Yoshida worked in the chocolate industry in Spain. There, he witnessed firsthand the spread of plant-based diets. The trends emerged in the early 2010s and advanced in European countries at different rates. In Spain, people did not embrace veganism right away but focused on eating more green and cutting back on animal products.
This ‘veg curiosity’ boosted the Spanish foodservice industry. Happy Cow “reported a 94% increase in vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Spain from 2011 to 2014” (Compassionate consumption, 2018). Yoshida noticed the vegan trend penetrated the foodservice industry, too.
In Japan, the enthusiasm for veganism is not there yet. The plant-based market is growing at a much slower rate, though it went through an impressive acceleration in 2020, with health and wellness driving the local demand. The key driver, until 2020, has been the tourism industry trying to align itself with global consumer choices.
Gateaux de Voyage ventured into the plant-based confectionery sector with the 2020 Olympic Games in mind.
In 2013, Tokyo won its bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games. When Yoshida came back to Japan, the food industry was entirely focused on the event.
Japan has experienced an explosive growth of inbound tourism in the 2010s. With the Olympics on the horizon, the country was expecting to welcome over 40 million visitors.
However, the tourism boom revealed that Japan isn’t necessarily a friendly destination for travelers with dietary restrictions, whether for health (allergies, intolerance) or ethical reasons.
In 2017, French organic supermarket chain Bio c’Bon opened its first store in Japan. The Japan branch, formed as a joint venture with major retailer Aeon, is thriving and now counts 26 stores. The development of the organic chain leads Yoshida to think about product quality and health on top of plant-based ingredients.
Yoshida reoriented Gateaux de Voyage’s research and development to include organic ingredients. Conscious of the advances in the American and European markets, he traveled to taste many new innovative products over the years.
Then in 2019, the JR East company called out for confectionery manufacturers to team up and develop a series of vegan products that could cater to the needs of tourists coming for the Olympic Games in 2020. The occasion was perfect to launch a plant-based confectionery line-up.
Unfortunately, the pandemic stood in the way of a successful launch
Japan abruptly closed its borders to international travelers in March 2020, and to this date [June 2021], entering Japan is strictly limited to national citizens and residents. Gateaux de Voyage could only rely on domestic tourism and consumers.
Food allergies in Japan are a complex social issue. While recent statistics indicate an increase in food allergies, particularly to dairy and egg products, many still associate allergies (or food intolerance for that matter) with being fussy with one’s food. As Emma E. Book explains in Navigating Food Allergies in Japan (2020), “being able to eat anything is a mark of a cooperative person and expressing strong dislikes and likes has typically been considered a sign of a problematic or difficult person.” Until very recently, few confectionery manufacturers addressed food allergy issues.
Their consumers also voiced that they’d like Gateaux de Voyage to develop more products similar to Las Olas.
More than plant-based, a “good-for-you” confectionery that everyone can enjoy
When researching products available on the Japanese market, we noticed that many products advertised they’re “allergen-free” or “dairy-free,” but close to none underlined they’re plant-based (or effectively vegan) products. An indication that capturing mainstream consumers with no food allergies with a plant-based or vegan label isn’t easy. For Yoshida, these labels are imperfect in translating the products he wishes to bring to the market.
Like with Spanish consumers, a wide range of consumers in Japan are in-between ‘flexitarian.’ But contrary to European trends, they’re not particularly interested in making food choices based on ethical or environmental issues. Health is the key driver in Japan.
Proud of their brand slogan —Peace Sweet—Gateaux de Voyage aims to offer a natural choice to consumers, one that non-vegan people would also enjoy.
Sho Yoshida cares not to promote or impose a specific way of providing food but to increase the choice.
Despite a missed start, Las Olas is here to stay and thrive
Sho Yoshida is actively keeping the brand Las Olas going. Since the beginning of the year , inquiries keep on coming to Gateaux de Voyage. The recognition of vegan and plant-based is clearly on the rise.
Gateaux de Voyage has decided to stay on track with its plant-based brand following the JR East initiative.
Las Olas wasn’t a huge success compared to Gateaux de Voyage’s regular products. But the company, and Sho Yoshida, look at the long-term picture. They’re working toward developing more products that cater to people with allergies. The country will eventually open up to inbound tourism, and Las Olas will be ready.
The challenge right now is to find the bridge to capture Japanese consumers’ attention.
If given the opportunity, Gateaux de Voyage wouldn’t mind exporting their products.
The Japanese confectionery company has not moved toward international markets yet but would be keen on exporting Las Olas.
While exporting products with animal ingredients is challenging, plant-based products offer an easier path to foreign markets.
As for foreign players trying to make their way to Japan, Sho Yoshida views them as potential partners. A view shared by Yuya Makino, Director of Public Relations and Marketing at Next Meats, Japan’s latest plant-based meat start-up. Currently, Japanese food manufacturers are holding many discussions on plant-based and vegan trends through private vegan incorporation (ビーガンという取り組み).
That’s all, folks!
Next week, we sit down with Yvonne Hauf, Director Business Unit International, and Marc Leonhardt, Business Development Manager at Katjes, vegan licorice and fruit gum confectionery company based in Germany.
Made with ❤️ by GourmetPro - Food & Beverage experts in Japan. Reach out for questions and comments!